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Milwaukee Archbishop Denies Report of Abuse; Vatican Accepts His Resignation

May 24, 2002 | AP

Archbishop Rembert Weakland acknowledged that he paid a settlement to a man who accused him of sexual assault more than 22 years ago. He denied ever molesting anyone, but asked the Vatican to expedite the resignation he submitted earlier this year.

The archbishop's accuser, Paul Marcoux, received a dlrs 450,000 settlement. He said he was drunk when Weakland attempted to assault him in October 1979, but did not go to police because two priests advised him not to.

On Friday, Weakland got his wish: The Vatican announced that Pope John Paul II had accepted the resignation.

Roman Catholics across Wisconsin struggled to absorb the news after Weakland's accuser, former theology student Paul Marcoux, went public Thursday with word of the dlrs 450,000 settlement.

In a statement Thursday, Weakland denied the abuse claims. "I have never abused anyone. I have not seen Paul Marcoux for more than 20 years," he said.

Marcoux, now 53, was a Marquette University theology student in his 30s at the time. He said Weakland seemed infatuated with him and later made sexual advances that he brushed aside.

Weakland's words came after ABC News first reported that he agreed in 1998 to pay Marcoux under a legal settlement, though Marcoux had not sued the archbishop.

"Because I accept the agreement's confidentiality provision, I will make no comment about its contents," Weakland said.

Marcoux released an August 1980 letter from Weakland that indicates the two had a close relationship which caused inner turmoil for the archbishop. It says Weakland gave Marcoux dlrs 14,000 for a new ministry, and suggests the archbishop felt pressured to donate more — though Marcoux denied Thursday that he ever extorted money from Weakland.

The archbishop, who recently adopted a zero tolerance policy toward abusive priests, has been in his post since 1977 and is considered the leading liberal voice among American church leaders. He reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in April, and is awaiting the Vatican's appointment of a new leader.

In his statement, he said the accusation would be a distraction and asked Rome to replace him as soon as possible.

In Weakland's letter, posted on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Web site, the archbishop expressed anguish at not being able to maintain a relationship with Marcoux. He writes that he wept as he penned the letter, which closes with the words "I love you."

Marcoux said he went public after noting that several church leaders had released victims from their confidentiality agreements.

The archbishop has been under increasing criticism for how he dealt with a sexually abusive priest in 1979. In a recently released 1993 deposition, Weakland said he moved the Rev. William Effinger to a new church after the priest admitted molesting a 13-year-old boy.

The archbishop didn't acknowledge the allegations to parishioners until years later, after another abuse claim was made against Effinger. He issued a public apology for the case in 1992.

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